Aromatherapy enhances well-being of seniors

Good Samaritan Society location offers essential oils for mood, daily routines

Aromatherapy essential oil with lavender, seashells and towels on a fresh clean countertop.

Aromatherapy is good for the mind, body and soul and it’s used regularly at Good Samaritan Society – Specialty Care Community in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

“A person will get an effect from aromatherapy just from smelling different oils,” said Kendra Willey, wellness resource and quality assurance process improvement coordinator at Specialty Care Community.

Willey began regularly providing aromatherapy to residents in December 2015 and most often uses it as a way to enhance their sense of well-being.

Scent and the brain

According to Willey, aromatherapy can influence mood in a variety of ways. Because scent is closely tied to memory, positive associations with certain scents can influence one’s mood. Once the chemical structure of the aromatic properties enters a person’s olfactory system and is processed — either by breathing in essential oils or putting them on the skin — their mood can be shifted as the oils activate certain areas of the brain.

Find aromatherapy: Integrative Health at Sanford 

Willey says there are a handful of oils, such as spearmint and grapefruit, that will help improve a person’s mood and boost their overall well-being if they are feeling sleepy or have low energy.

She mentions that other oils help those who are dealing with upsetting emotions.

“Whether you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, lavender would be a good one to go to,” Willey adds.

Aromatherapy in a pandemic

Due to the pandemic, she currently provides aromatherapy to residents in their rooms. If she sees someone who’s acting anxious, she has them smell the oils associated with being calm and feeling peaceful. She also has them practice deep-breathing techniques.

Before the pandemic, Willey offered aromatherapy in group settings to residents. There she incorporated other sensory experiences, such as massaging their hands and listening to musical instruments played by a music therapist.

She also had a photo of something peaceful, like a nature scene, projected on the screen as she led the groups through guided meditations.

In addition to helping enhance residents’ health, Willey is a resource to other health care workers. As a registered dietitian, she uses her master’s degree in holistic health studies to educate health care workers on the benefits of aromatherapy.

Her co-workers, who are all trained in how to provide aromatherapy, help support her.

“It’s the expectation that every nurse, CNA, TMA and people in the business office know what we do and what the expectation is so they can engage in care if they need to,” says Willey.

Supporting those with Huntington’s disease

In addition to seniors, Specialty Care Community provides care for those living with Huntington’s disease.

“They love aromatherapy,” says Willey. “A handful want their lavender every night at bedtime. It’s part of their sleep hygiene routine.”

Residents often advocate for themselves and tell the staff what they like and don’t like when it comes to aromatherapy. And they also enjoy the guided meditation and chair yoga that Willey leads.

“They’re a really fun group to work with,” she says.

Aromatherapy resources for others

If you are a health care worker and are interested in starting an aromatherapy program where you work, Willey can provide resources, examples and best practices. She can also train locations in the Twin Cities area or provide a list of organizations and information to help you get started.

Contact her at kwilley@good-sam.com.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Senior Services, Wellness

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